This post is the ninth in our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism
that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.
“What more can we do? What should we do now?”
The question came from a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. A colleague, who works in the area of mission, and I made a presentation about Presbyterian responses when the United States threatened a military strike on Syria because of the use of chemical weapons. Presbyterians joined people across the country and around the world to prevent such an attack. Presbyterians prayed. Emailed and called the White House and Congress. Wrote letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. We gave to relief efforts. We lifted up the voices of our sisters and brothers in Syria and Lebanon. I helped coordinate advocacy visits for one of arranged visits for one of our partners to Congressional Offices and within the UN system. The bombs did not fall.
“What more can we do? What should we do now?”
My colleague responded first. “As one who relates to our mission partners, I usually speak of the importance of relationship. But I say advocacy. Continue to advocate with our public officials.”
“As one who usually asks you to advocate, I am going to ask you to pray,” I said when it came my turn.
Prayer binds me to other people be they in Damascus or Detroit. Prayer commits me to situations whether they be acts of gun violence or climate change.
The act of prayer is an opening to God. It is also an opening of myself to the people and circumstances for which I pray. Prayer binds us together. Prayer asks me for a commitment. Prayer makes and nurtures the relationships, key to pursuing justice. And prayer for justice and wholeness in one setting draws me out of myself to experience anew the connections between all forms of injustice. It reminds me of the interdependence of people and life. It transforms me as it leads me to pray—and then act—more broadly than I would have otherwise done.
A simple grace at a meal gives thanks for the food. And it leads to giving thanks for all who helped prepare the food in all its many stages. The grace moves me to recognize the conditions under which many of my sisters and brothers labor. And I pray for safe places for all to work. The grace reminds me of my brothers and sisters who hunger. And I pray for all to have enough to eat. The grace calls to mind the source of my food. And I pray that I might live gently and responsibly on God’s good earth. At the end, the grace draws me to rededicate myself to working for a world in which all people have enough to eat and we respect and honor God’s creation. The moment of grace helps me to receive grace, too.
A few weeks ago, I received another reminder of this function of prayer. In response to the14 April 2014 kidnapping of schoolgirls and other acts of violence in Nigeria, I had signed petitions and written letters asking for just, peaceful, enduring solutions. I also prayed.
After a day or two, I joined many people in praying for a specific girl. It made the horror more manageable and provided a sense of humanity. A list of names, reportedly those of some of the girls, circulated around the Internet. I helped with that circulation.
Questions arose soon after I began to pray. Some questioned posting the girls’ names. Was the list even correct? What was its origin? How had it been created? Was it shared with the permission of the families? Jinna Moore added questions from a representative of the governor of Borno state in Nigeria: Could the release of the names in some way further endanger the girls? Could it make it easier for those who abducted the girls to identify their parents and extort ransom? Could it place the stigma of rape, whether rape happened or not, over the girls?
I pondered those questions. And I made several decisions. I would not share the list any further. I picked a name off the list. I checked online to see if the names were used in Nigeria. When I learned they were, I prayed for a girl with that name. And I have continued to do so. Is there such a girl? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But there could be. And that is what matters. And so I pray.
When I pray for one girl, I find it sets the prayer web trembling and my prayer begins to expand until I find myself praying for:
all the girls and their families
all the people of Nigeria
all the girls and boys trafficked around the world, in probably every part of the world
all the girls and boys, men and women trafficked for sex or labor or their organs.
I find myself praying for:
men, and women, who buy and sell children for sex
men, and women, who buy and sell children and adults for their labor or their organs
those who exploit and abuse their brothers and sisters in any way
those who work to end trafficking, exploitation, and abuse
those who resort to violence
those who respond to violence with violence
those who seek to over come violence with nonviolence.
The list of my brothers and sisters for whom I pray goes on and on, dancing, shimmering, expanding, changing, revealing the interconnected reality within which I live.
I start to pray for one girl, I end by praying for the world and for the wisdom, courage, and grace, to work for justice, peace, and wholeness for all.
How do I respond to the call to seek justice? Through organizing—listening to my sisters and brothers—organizing—advocating. And praying every step of the way.
Rev. W. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, wears an orange tie on an Orange Day to witness and end violence against women. He has 30 years of experience in ministry, serving congregations, the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, and the General Assembly Mission Council (now Presbyterian Mission Agency Board). He is a follower, seeker, walker, would-be photographer, writer of bad poetry, Steelers, Pirates and Penguins fan, high desert lover, currently at home in the Big Apple.